By Matt Stefano
Exactly one month from today, the puck will drop on the Soo Thunderbirds 2023-2024 season.
And this season, it will also be the Thunderbirds 25th season in the NOJHL!
On September 8, 2023, the Soo Thunderbirds will kick off their 25th season in the NOJHL against their International Bridge rivals the Soo Eagles, beginning at 7:00 p.m. at the John Rhodes.
“It’s really exciting to be entering our 25th season in this league (NOJHL), and it’s also an opportunity to look back and reflect on all the great people both on and off the ice who have laid the foundation for this program,” said Soo Thunderbirds assistant coach and general manager Jamie Henderson.
When you look at this year’s Soo Thunderbirds roster, the club has a total of five returning players from last year’s team, including forwards Daniel Beaupre (20g 26a 46p), Samuel Lake (6g 15a 21p) and Alex Remenda (7g 7a 14p), along with defenceman Kolby Fellinger (1g 13a 14p) and goaltender Kolton Bourret (2.92 GAA).
One player who found the back of the net 20 times last season is returning forward Daniel Beaupre.
Beaupre, who will be entering his final season of junior hockey this year, came over to the Thunderbirds in a trade last September from the defending NOJHL champion Timmins Rock.
“Heading into this season, I’m excited about meeting all the new players and am looking forward to seeing the returning players as well,” Beaupre said. “This season, I want to be a leader for the younger guys, and after going to the finals last year against my old team Timmins, I think we have the guys on our team who know what it takes to get back there (NOJHL final) and we want to be back there again this season.”
In his first 5 games with the Rock last season, Beaupre scored 3 times, including twice against the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners.
After being acquired in a trade from the Timmins Rock back on September 22, 2022, Beaupre then scored 17 times and set up 26 others in 45 games as a member of the T-Birds.
“I think after coming over from Timmins, I just got a bit more opportunity with the T-Birds,” Beaupre said. “I was always confident in my scoring abilities, and when I came over to the Sault, I got some time on the power play and I had the chance to play with some pretty good players that helped me become a better goal-scorer.”
Beaupre, who just turned 20-years-old back on June 2, is currently the oldest player on this year’s Soo Thunderbirds roster.
“I was pretty happy with my season last year and I’m looking to take another step this year with me being the oldest player on this year’s team,” Beaupre said. “I’m not too worried about individual goals because my first priority is team success and I think the individual success will come with that.”
Back on August 1, the Thunderbirds also went out and brought back a familiar face to their team, as they re-acquired 2003-birth-year forward Kelsey Ouellet from the MHL’s Truro Bearcats in exchange for the CJHL rights to defenceman Mason Chitaroni (Who now plays for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan).
“To be coming back to the Sault is great, but to be apart of the 25th anniversary team is something special,” Ouellet said. “The Thunderbirds have had so much success in the past and there’s no doubt there will be more in the future.”
As a member of the Soo Thunderbirds back in 2021-2022, Ouellet scored 16 times and set up 25 others in 48 regular season games.
That season (2021-2022), Ouellet also helped the T-Birds win their fifth Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy in franchise history.
Following his first season with the T-Birds, Ouellet then ended up being traded to the MHL’s Truro Bearcats back on September 5, 2022.
“Once I left to go to Truro I was excited, but at the same time I was upset because I was leaving Sault after having a great rookie season with the T-Birds and I also enjoyed playing on a great team,” Ouellet said.
Ouellet, who helped the T-Birds win the Copeland Cup McNamara Trophy back in 2022, is just one of three players remaining from that championship winning team, along with forward Samuel Lake and defenceman Kolby Fellinger.
“It’s always easy to look back and focus on past championship teams, but it takes so much to establish a successful program and that is really a credit to all the volunteers and every player who has given themselves to make it better for the other players to follow,” Henderson said.
Ouellet, who just turned 20-years-old two days ago, is currently the second oldest player on this year’s Soo Thunderbirds roster.
“This season I’ll be looking to get better than I was in previous seasons and I’ll be putting in the extra work on and off the ice everyday,” Ouellet said. “This season I want to win and there’s nothing better than the feeling after a win, and I want to look forward to that (Winning feeling) every single game.”
When you look at the Thunderbirds past 24 seasons in the NOJHL, the club has developed a handful of players who have went on to play in the National Hockey League, including Tyler Kennedy, Andrew Campbell, Jake Muzzin, Colin Miller and Boris Katchouk.
Two former Soo Thunderbirds who have just been drafted by NHL teams this past June, were Andrew Gibson (42nd overall by the Detroit Red Wings) and Cooper Foster (174th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins).
“The Soo Thunderbirds program has always been much more about hockey,” Henderson said. “You will see that in our community we have so many alumni who are firefighters, police officers, and even doctors and lawyers. While we certainly celebrate the accomplishments of those who have gone on to have successful hockey careers, it’s important for our program to ensure that we continue to offer an environment where these young men can succeed both on and off the ice.”
Starting this season, the T-Birds will be without defenceman Brodie McConnell-Barker and goaltender Landon Miller, who hare both expected to be with the Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds.
Both McConnell-Barker and Miller are also eligible to get drafted by NHL teams in 2024.
THE SAINTS COME MARCHING IN
During this offseason, the T-Birds signed a pair of players out of the CSSHL’s Mount Academy Saints Under-18 Prep team, including defenceman Cole Power and forward Emile Tremblay.
Power, who is a 2005-birth-year defenceman, had 2 goals and 5 points in 13 games played with the Saints last season, and also finished tied for the team-lead in power play goals with 2.
Tremblay, who is a 2005-birth-year forward, had 3 goals and 5 points in 10 games played.
HENDO LET THE HOUNDS OUT
This summer, Soo Thunderbirds general manager Jamie Henderson has signed a total of seven players out the Soo Jr. Greyhounds program for the upcoming season, including Callum McAuley, Jacob Smith, Harley Wardell, Candon O’Neill, Declan Gallivan, Evan Roach and Maverick Fletcher.
All seven of those players were also coached on the Soo Jr. Greyhounds last season under Hendo, and all seven of those players have already suited up as affiliate players in the NOJHL.
FREE TO JOIN THE BIRDS
When you look at free agent signings, this summer the T-Birds have signed a total of three players as free agents for the upcoming season.
Those three players are forward Thomas Degagne and blueliners Andrew Thompson and Tyler Enwistle.
Thompson and Entwistle are both 2005-birth-year players while Degagne was born in 2004.
THUNDER BAY STRUCK
Back on June 1, the T-Birds brought in another player from Thunder Bay, Ontario, as they signed 2005-birth-year defenceman Adam Kukko.
Kukko, who was born in Thunder Bay, Ontario, spent last season with the Thunder Bay Kings U18 AAA team, where he had 1 goal and 3 assists in 39 games played.
With the addition of Kukko, the T-Birds now have a total of three Thunder Bay products on their team for the upcoming season, along with forward Alex Remenda and goaltender Kolton Bourret.
EASTON FROM THE WEST
After spending last season with the KIJHL’s Kelowna Chiefs, Fort St. John, British Columbia native Easton Hall ending up being acquired by the Soo Thunderbirds in a trade back on June 10.
As a member of the Chiefs last season, Hall finished fourth in team scoring with 7 goals and 15 points in 39 games played.
With the addition of Hall, the T-Birds now have a total of two players from British Columbia on their team, along with returning forward Daniel Beaupre.
ANOTHER QUEBECER JOINS THE NEST
Back on June 11, the Soo Thunderbirds went out and added another player from Quebec, as they signed 2005-birth-year forward James Legler.
Legler, who was born in Beaconsfield, Quebec, spent last season with the CSSHL’s Ontario Hockey Academy Under-18 Prep team, where he had 10 points in 17 games.
With the addition on Legler, the T-Birds now have a total of three Quebecers on their roster for the upcoming season, along with Émile Tremblay and Thomas Degagne (Originally born in LeChesnay, France).
FROM A WOLF, TO A FLAME, TO A T-BIRD
After starting last season with the Renfrew Wolves and ending last season with Gatineau Flames, 2004-birth-year forward Grayson Ebrahim then ended up being picked up by the Soo Thunderbirds in a trade from the Flames back on June 23.
Ebrahim, who is from Kingston, Ontario, had 9 points in 37 games played last season.
BACK BEHIND THE BENCH
After leading the T-Birds to the NOJHL final back-to-back seasons in his his first two seasons behind the bench, Soo Thunderbirds head coach Cole Jarrett will be returning behind the bench this year for his third season.
Jarrett, who led the T-Birds to the NOJHL final back-to-back seasons, also became the fourth coach in franchise history to lead the team to the NOJHL final in back-to-back seasons, joining Jim Capy (2001, 2002, 2003 & 2004), Pat Carricato (2009 & 2010) and Jordan Smith (2014, 2015 & 2016).
Joining Jarrett behind the bench for this season will be returning assistant coaches Jamie Henderson, Joey Miller and Jeremy Rebek along with returning goaltender coach Brian Kment.
Henderson will also be in his third season as the club’s general manager while Cole Cloutier will be in his third season as the club’s assistant general manager.
(Photo of Soo Thunderbirds forward Daniel Beaupre credit to Bob Davies)